Supes Briefed on Climate Change’s Health Effects

From 2.6.13 edition


By Daniel Mintz

Press Reporter


The county’s Health Officer has warned that disease, drought and the impacts of rising sea levels will trigger public health emergencies.

Donald Baird, the county’s health officer, told the Board of Supervisors at its Jan. 29 meeting that climate change is a certainty that needs to be dealt with. “There may be controversy in terms of how we got here but the point is, this is a scientific fact,” he said. “The argument that ‘it’s not happening’ has pretty much been debunked by the scientific community.”

In the last century, there’s been a one-degree rise in the earth’s surface temperature and most of the change has occurred in the last 20 years, Baird continued. By the end of this century, continuing warmth of between 2.5 degrees to 10 degrees is expected, he said, and there will be “health implications.”

Even cooler climate areas like ours aren’t immune from the spread of disease encouraged by warmer temperatures elsewhere, he continued. Baird said diseases like West Nile virus, dengue fever and amoebic meningitis have spread to unexpected locales. Nationwide, droughts, wildfires and dust storms are already more frequent and sewage overflows caused by water volume surges have been seen locally and nationwide.

Referring to a map of the continental U.S. delineated by temperature zones, Baird said all areas of the nation – “except for those of us on the coast” – have seen temperature increases in the last 22 years.

Human activity is considered “by the majority of the scientific community” as a major cause of the changes, said Baird. “We’re looking at the best case scenario – if we do something now – and the worst case scenario,” he continued. “Knowing human behavior, we’re probably going to delay until we absolutely have to.”

That time may come by 2100 and by then, global temperature may rise enough to trigger a “global health emergency” that will “overwhelm our health system with heat-related illnesses,” Baird said.

Vehicle exhaust is a leading source of carbon emissions and Supervisor Mark Lovelace said trail development is a relatively inexpensive means of providing non-motorized access.

He related his experience at a statewide conference, where he met a planning official from Portland, Oregon, which is renowned for its citywide trail and sidewalk system. Lovelace said he was told that the whole system cost $58 million to build over a 30-year span.

“He said that $58 million, by comparison, would build approximately one mile of a six-lane, culverted freeway,” Lovelace continued.

Climate change was well-represented on the meeting’s agenda, as it also included approval of a letter of support for a California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) federal funding request to devise strategies to deal with climate change-related infrastructure threats.

“Our rural region is particularly valuable for this type of study because of the physical environment, active geology and proximity to the coast,” the letter states. “Even moderate storm events can have drastic effects on transportation facilities in this area, including slides, washouts, culvert failures, sea level rise and flooding.”

The letter was unanimously approved as part of the meeting’s consent agenda. Supervisor Estelle Fennell referred to it during the climate change presentation, saying the need for disaster preparedness is becoming more acute.



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